No one ever said that it would be easy. This statement has been made time and time again throughout history when it was obvious that a great battle would have to occur in order to achieve a desired goal.
This statement of fact is especially apropos as it pertains to law enforcement's battle against illegal drugs. These efforts have seen ups and downs and have been called everything from public policy to an actual war on illegal drugs. It has been scattered with cute slogans as well as marketing schemes that were intended to scare kids away. But, on the front line, this issue has been and continues to be an epic battle against illegal drugs and those who use and distribute them.
While the efforts have been exhausting at times, it has all seemed worthwhile as various campaigns were successful in rooting out those who were determined to continue their plight toward financial reward, despite the collateral fallout that might occur.
However, even in the bleakest moments of this issue, there has been little doubt as to who the enemy was. That is until now. We are starting to see more and more instances where law enforcement officials have actually had to start putting some of their own under the spotlight. Some police officers have taken on the "what is fair for the goose is fair for the gander" mentality when it comes to making money off of illegal drugs. Police officers have been identified as literally robbing drug dealers of their money, and/or their drugs, and turning the would be dealer's profit into their own.
I have no sympathy for drug dealers. Some will even say that these crimes against the real criminals don't really matter and that they got what they deserve. However, my distaste for those in the illegal drug business or the sentiments of those who would rather see cops get the money than the drug dealers can never justify such actions.
In fact, those who commit such crimes while wearing the badge are in my opinion worse than the drug dealers themselves. We expect drug dealers to be criminals. We do not, however, expect our police officers to fall into the same category. Police officers who are worth their salt take their oath and allegiance toward a sometimes tired, but very real slogan of protecting and serving very seriously. This oath and promise of uncompromising allegiance to honesty can never be watered down or interpreted differently based on circumstances where officers convinces themselves of some sort of justification as to their illegal acts.
In short, you are either honest or you are not. You are either a criminal or you are not. And, most importantly, you are either a police officer or you are not. There is no middle of the road. There is no "just this once" allowed and there is no do over or take back in this very dangerous game. Once this line of trustworthiness is crossed, officers can never be allowed to cross back over. It is not only up to us to ensure that police officers who cross the line are held accountable for their actions; it is up to police officers who would never cross the line to hold them accountable as well.
We saw an example of how this should occur in the past week by Chief Charles Walters. He is the police chief for the Gwinnett County Police Department. Walters discovered that an amount of drugs, which was used by undercover officers in narcotics investigations, had been taken from the safe. It would have been much easier for Walters to keep the investigation quiet. Not only did Walters bring the investigation to the public's attention, he called on the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate the issue.
While his department is certainly capable of conducting an internal investigation, bringing in another agency eliminated any potential accusations of cover up by the chief. While it may have been difficult to admit that one of his own may have violated the law, he also made it clear that such behavior would not be tolerated.
This technique employed by Walters seems to simply be good common sense. However, some agencies choose to investigate these crimes behind the scenes based on concerns of mistrust from the public should the allegations be brought into the spotlight. However, I believe that most people will recognize that keeping such issues open and up front will actually instill public trust. It sends a clear message to the people that law enforcement serves, that no one is above the law. And that includes both those people who do not wear a badge, as well as those who do.
The badge that a police officer wears can only shine as bright as the behavior demonstrated by the officer wearing it. The overall badge may be tarnished from time to time, but this case is an example of how now and then a brief polishing can restore its original and intended shine.
As for those who have violated, or are contemplating violating, the oath that they have taken there are fortunately prison dungarees available in all shapes and sizes and prior employment is simply just not a factor.
Stan Hall is director of Gwinnett County's victim's witness program.